The universe is conspiring to break my concentration. All week it’s been storm drain replacement one street over, followed by the city’s giant leaf removal vacuum. Now Asplundh is chopping down a tree next door. Please excuse errors.
We rose early on Nov. 5 to beat the crowds to the Todaiji Temple, home of the Great Buddha. Thanks to Hiro, we entered first because he had given us tickets. The temple accomplishes its intent — to make humans, indeed all life – feel minuscule. The Buddha is indeed serene but not awe-inspiring in the way other of monuments, perhaps because the setting makes it difficult to see. The head of the Buddha sits encased in a dome that shadows the features.
After the Great Buddha, we climbed the hill and visited the Great Bell, which is supported by enormous beams. Just thinking about the size of the trees they had to cut to build the bell tower made my head ache. Higher up, there was a different but equally satisfying vista from our nighttime visit.
We accomplished all this by 10 a.m. A bit later, Hiro drove us to Toyouke no Mori. The journey there through ancient roads served as the ideal prelude to the quiet harmony and beauty of the farm. These mansions (by Japanese standards) nearly rivaled that of the salt-makers in Naoshima. Hiro explained that they had belonged to people who were the first in Japan to plant rice on a large scale.
Toyouke no Mori is an organic farm where residents grow and prepare their meals and live in the Buddhist tradition. Here’s the description:
Life at Toyouke no Mori is anchored in the Japanese tradition of a shared community, life based on simplicity, sustainability and harmony. We offer visitors an opportunity to experience life in a natural setting that celebrates the rich four seasons of Japan, and to cultivate an inner peace, being content with what you have, and rejoicing in the way things are.
It fulfills every word of that promise.
We toured the gardens, which lie on a steep hillside. Much of the produce had been harvested, but there were beans and persimmons still to be picked. In a sign of globalization, a pizza oven looking rather like a beehive amused me. The Buddha no doubt laughs, too. The bathing room, still under construction, will be a work of beauty and a joy forever when it is completed.
We met four beautiful and energetic young women who prepared a multi-course repast. We slurped up (yeah, that’s OK here) beet soup so dark it was almost purple with a fish base. Hiro said they use Kombu for vegan dishes. Then we dove into grilled Chinese cabbage, arugula with pear and tofu, two kinds of greens, one with sesame oil. Of course there was rice, more glutinous and with adzuki beans.
Before we ate we said a prayer from Thich Nhat Hanh:
This food is a gift from the entire universe
The land, the sky, the ocean and the work of many people
May I be the presence that deserves to receive this
May I learn the right way of eating
May I receive energy and be protected from illness
May I walk the path of wisdom and love
When I eat, may I not forget the people who are now suffering from hunger in the world.
Words to contemplate spoken at a place to visit again and again.